Teatro de la Luna’s XIII International Hispanic Theater Festival continued on a roll with a richly profound, absurd black comedy from Spain about waiting. Three sisters, who are triplets, wait for the happiest day of their lives: a wedding and a first communion. Nobody comes. Nobody leaves. Nothing happens.
Russian playwright Chekhov gave us Three Sisters about three trapped women who want to break out. Spanish playwright, Laila Ripoll ignites a breakout in two time frames. The Happiest Day of Our Lives is a character-driven play that starts about 1983, and takes place on a huge king-size bed. Freedom from censorship has begun under courageous King Juan Carlos’ democratic reforms since the repressive dictator Franco died in 1975. Act II flashes back twenty years to the triplets, in pigtails, on the same bed. Time reversal and character doubling are unexpected and create a tremendous irony.
In the 1980s, liberalization has just started. Two of the three sisters, Amelia (Lola Martinez) and Marijose (Susi Espin), lie in bed the night before their shared wedding day, which is also their birthday. Marijose, hyped by worry, rouses Amelia to say that tomorrow is supposed to be the happiest day of her life. But her betrothed groom doesn’t make her tremble with passion. She doesn’t love him. Passion is an illusion, sung about in songs, says Amelia, the stoic, whose boyfriend has been waiting five years for marriage and sex. Obviously, Amelia and Marijose are still in Franco’s mindset. Women must be pure and can only be wives and mothers, who follow the Church and never divorce.
Sounds of a motorcycle buzz from behind the white window frame, projected on the back stage wall. The third sister, Conchi (Esperanza Clares), bounces in wearing goggle-like sunglasses, hot pink blouse and tights, set-off by a black mini-skirt and shiny boots. Already she rocks. She’s a liberated woman who lives alone in a Madrid apartment.
Director Antonio Saura makes this production a riveting joy to watch. Three consummate actresses, play their roles for the most part, straight out to the audience. They move and gesture like puppets; their timing synchronized, as if controlled by invisible strings. The direction and well-timed delivery are brilliantly stylized; not overdone.
At one point, Amelia lies in bed upstage at the apex of a triangular arrangement and reacts with wide-eyed pain to her two sisters’ secret lives. Downstage, Marijose, in profile, talks about her affair with her one true love. He’s a veterinarian who also rides a motorcycle but is married with several kids and another on the way. Marijose is worried her bridegroom, a respectable man, monied and well-established, will discover she’s not a virgin. Downstage, Conchi, who has been with too many men to count, says not to worry. But Marijose has to marry the groom because their mother will suffer if she doesn’t. He’s a widower who has outlasted two wives, who are dead. “Aren’t you afraid you will be the third?” Conchi quips with a maniacal laugh.
Conchi clearly is the rebellious, unconventional one, who sadistically makes stabbing remarks and enjoys shocking her provincial sisters. The act ends with Marijose standing spotlighted at the head of the bed, stripped to the waist, her naked back to the audience, her arms outstretched into a crucifix.
Act II goes back to the Francoism of the 1960s. Rage is the fuel that whips up excitement and reduces the sublime to the absurd in an outrageous lampoon of the Roman Catholic Church.
Three eight-year-old girls, enacted by the same actresses in nighties, kneel on the big bed in prayer, on the eve before their first communion. Phrases from the first act are reprised in a different situation. But now, everything is a sin.
Actress Esperanza Clares, as Conchi, is noteworthy in the way she uses her raspy voice and high-pitched laugh, like an old crone, as she chants “Sin, Sin,” or “She’s going to Hell,” to every natural request from Marijose, who asks for a drink of water, or decides she doesn’t want to take communion the next day. At another point, Conchi gives a Nazi salute. The three ask for forgiveness and say Hail Marys. And ultimately, Marijose, with an agonized facial expression, falls into the lineup with her sisters, all dressed in white satin dresses, praying at the foot of the bed. The triplets are waiting for the happiest days of their lives. The point is poignantly made and serves as a reminder that when politics and religion are united, fear enters people’s lives.
This play has closed.
The Happiest Day of Our Lives (El Dia Mas Feliz de Nuestra Vida)
By Laila Ripoll
Directed by Antonio Saura
Produced by Alquibla Teatro, from Spain
For the Teatro de la Luna’s 13th International Festival of Hispanic Theater
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Notes from the reviewer:
I’ve rarely been disappointed by the plays that are brought to Teatro de la Luna’s annual International Hispanic Festival. This year’s festival continues next weekend with another comedy focused on marriage as an institution: Help! I’m Getting Married (Socorro! Me Caso), Thurs., Fri., Nov. 4, 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 6, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. from Argentina.
Then comes Romeo and Juliet, A Work in Progress, also from Argentina, continuing the themes on dream and illusion, Thurs., Fri., Nov. 11, 12, 8 p.m.; Sat. Nov. 13, 8 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The third weekend, Ubu Rey, from the Dominican Republic, Thurs., Fri., Nov. 18, 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 20, 8 p.m.
Also the third weekend, Drops of Water, (Gotas de Agua), continuing the be-kind-to-the-planet theme, from Teatro de la Luna’s “EXPERIENCE THEATER,” for young spectators, Sat., Nov. 20 & 27, 11:30 a.m.
The last weekend, Wistful Memories, (Techaga’U Anoranza), from Paraguay, Thurs., Fri., Nov. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 27, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.
The XIII International Hispanic Festival continues thru Nov 27th at Gunston Arts Center – Theatre 2, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington, VA 22206.